Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 111: Pentagon says Putin likely still wants much, if not all, of Ukraine

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

US expects more announcements of weapons to Ukraine during key meeting Wednesday of nearly 50 countries

The US expects more announcements of weapons and equipment packages to Ukraine during a key meeting of nearly 50 countries known as the Ukraine Contact Group on Wednesday, according to a senior US defense official.

Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia is gaining ground in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, specifically in the city of Severodonestk, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting recently. Without an influx of more weapons, some Ukrainian officials have said it will be increasingly difficult to halt Russia’s incremental progress or reclaim occupied ground in the region.

“We hear what they’re saying, we absolutely hear what they’re saying,” stated the senior defense official, who spoke of the “urgency” of the group’s meeting Thursday in Brussels.

The official would not detail what countries would be announcing new security packages or what those shipments would include but noted that the US works “very closely” with other countries to figure out what Ukraine’s armed forces need and then find those systems to send over.

The official would also not say whether the US would have a new package to announce, but noted US President Biden’s administration is already working on the next package.

“It’s a constant drumbeat because it’s a constant battle” with “constantly evolving urgent requirements,” the official told a group of reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The Biden administration announced the last weapons package on June 1st, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS), a system capable of launching a barrage of rockets and missiles that Ukraine had urgently requested for weeks. The $700 million package was the first time the administration had drawn from the new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, which received bipartisan support in Congress.

A small group of Ukrainian soldiers began training on HiMARS almost immediately after the weapons package was announced. But the system, which requires three weeks of training, has not yet entered the fight. The senior defense official would only say that it will enter Ukraine “soon.”

The US has taken on “some risk” to its own military readiness in sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said earlier this month, but it was “not an unacceptable level of risk at all.”

The senior defense official stated the US and it allies had a significant amount of equipment still available to send to Ukraine.

“We have far from exhausted the resource and the multi-country security assistance for this battle on Ukrainian territory,” the official added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in his evening speech on Monday that Ukraine would liberate all of the territories occupied by Russia, even the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed shortly after its takeover in 2014. But that could only happen, he said, with more weapons for Ukraine.

“It only takes enough weapons to make it happen. The partners have it. In sufficient quantities. And we work every day for the political will to give us these weapons to appear,” Zelensky added.

Ukrainian officials have announced 100 to 200 soldiers a day are dying in the fighting, a number that raises some doubts about the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to sustain such losses. The US official didn’t doubt the casualty figures.

“The numbers are not out of line with what you would expect for this kind of artillery battle,” the official said, adding, “It’s not surprising that the numbers the Ukrainians are reporting are that serious.”

But the official stated the US has not seen a flagging of Ukrainian morale to remain in the fight, even as the conflict becomes a grinding, brutal battle of artillery that may favor the firepower and manpower of Russia’s military. The official sounded a more optimistic note about the state of the fight, even as Russia appears to be gaining momentum in the Donbas region.

Problems of morale, poor command, and supply issues have plagued the Russian military since the beginning of the invasion. Russia was able to paper over some of those issues when the focus shifted to eastern Ukraine, since the battlefield bordered Russia, making it much easier to send supplies the short distance to units on the front line.

A lot of Russia’s high-end equipment has already been destroyed, the official said, forcing them to rely on older models. At the same time, Russia’s stock of precision munitions are dwindling, leading to the use of more artillery, which has had devastating consequences with its lack of precision. Sanctions and export restrictions have also made it higher to resupply their high end capabilities, the official said.

Despite all the challenges the Russians have faced — both self-made and a result of Ukraine’s counter-attacks — Russia still retains its biggest advantage, the sheer size of its military. But that doesn’t mean Russia is guaranteed victory, even if Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no indication that he is considering scaling back his goals.

“It’s not so clear where the advantages and disadvantages fall. There are strains on both sides,” the official added.

Russia blacklists 49 UK citizens, including journalists

Russia has said it is blacklisting 49 UK citizens, including defence officials and prominent journalists from the BBC, The Financial Times and The Guardian.

“The British journalists on the list are involved in the deliberate dissemination of false and one-sided information about Russia and the events in Ukraine and Donbas,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Among the journalists who have been banned entry to Russia are Shaun Walker of The Guardian, Gideon Rachman of The Financial Times and political analyst Mark Galeotti.

Ukraine needs $5bn monthly: Official

Ukraine needs at least $5bn a month to keep its wartime budget afloat, a top financial official has stated.

“Our expenses are much larger than the amounts that we collect now from traditional sources – the customs office and taxation,” Daniil Hetmantsev, who heads the parliamentary commission on finances, taxes and customs, said in televised remarks.

“It means that without the help of our partners we won’t make it in May, as well as in June, and for at least another three or four months,” he added.

He noted that Kyiv finances the war effort from the government coffers, and that Ukraine’s main backers – the US and the European Union – fund “other parts of the budget”.

Putin likely still wants much, if not all, of Ukraine: Pentagon official

President Vladimir Putin likely still wants to capture much if not all of Ukraine but has had to narrow his tactical objectives in war, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl has said.

“I still think he has designs on a significant portion of Ukraine, if not the whole country. That said, I do not think he can achieve those objectives,” Kahl stated, speaking at an event hosted by the Center for New American Security.

“They may make tactical gains here and there. The Ukrainians are holding up. I do not think the Russians have the capacity to achieve those grandiose objectives,” Kahl added.

Ukrainian forces advance in occupied Kherson: Official

Ukrainian armed forces are moving towards the administrative capital of the Russia-occupied southern region of Kherson, an official has said.

They are approaching the village of Tomyna Balka that lies only 20km (12 miles) west of the capital, also named Kherson, Serhiy Hlan, an adviser to the region’s head, stated in televised remarks.

Russia says will restrict budget data in response to Western sanctions

Russia will start to restrict public access to some government data in a bid to protect the country from additional sanctions, the finance ministry has said.

In a statement, the ministry added it will partially restrict the information about budget spending it makes public in response to the “negative consequences” of sanctions on the Russian economy.

Boosted by high energy prices for Russia’s vital oil and gas exports, the country’s budget surplus came in a 1.49 trillion roubles ($26bn) for the first five months of the year, finance ministry data showed.

Russia slashes gas deliveries via Nord Stream: Gazprom

Russia’s energy giant Gazprom has said it would be reducing the daily gas deliveries via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany due to the “repair” of compressor units by German company Siemens.

“Gas supplies via the Nord Stream gas pipeline can currently be provided in the amount of up to 100 million cubic metres per day,” Gazprom announced in a statement on Telegram, adding that the expected daily volume is 167 million cubic metres.

With the delayed return of components from Siemens, only three gas-pumping units were currently operational at the Portovaya compression station near the northwestern city of Vyborg, Gazprom added.

Ukraine eyes EU help with temporary silos to store new grain harvest

European countries will consider providing temporary granaries to Ukraine, which faces a shortage of silos for new grain crop, Ukrainian agriculture ministry has said.

Ukrainian agriculture minister earlier told Reuters in an interview that in autumn when the corn harvest is over, the shortage of storage capacity could reach up to 15 million tonnes.

“We have an urgent need to equip temporary grain storages – modular structures and plastic bags,” the ministry quoted deputy minister Markiyan Dmytrasevych as saying.

“EU governments will consider providing Ukraine with such temporary storage facilities – as a result, it should significantly help preserve the harvest and secure future grain supplies to world markets,” the ministry added in a statement.

Bodies of another 64 Ukrainian soldiers who died in Mariupol steel plant have been repatriated: Ukraine

The bodies of another 64 Ukrainian soldiers who died defending the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — located southeast of Ukraine — have been repatriated to government-controlled territory, the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories said Tuesday.

“Ukraine has returned the bodies of 64 heroic Azovstal defenders for their dignified burial,” the statement read.

“The process of returning the bodies of the dead Ukrainian soldiers continues,” it added.

The ministry announced that the bodies were repatriated in an “exchange.”

Ukraine says troops holding out in Severodonetsk after last bridge destroyed

Ukraine announced on Tuesday its forces were still holding out inside Severodonetsk and trying to evacuate civilians, after Russia destroyed the last bridge to the devastated eastern city in a potential turning point in one of the war’s bloodiest battles.

Russia announced it would give Ukrainian fighters holed up in a chemical plant inside the city a chance to surrender on Wednesday morning.

Fighters should “stop their senseless resistance and lay down their arms” from 8 a.m. Moscow time, Interfax news agency quoted ​Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defence Management Centre, as saying.

Civilians would be let out through a “humanitarian corridor”, he added.

The city’s Ukrainian mayor, Oleksandr Stryuk, said: “The situation is very difficult but there is communication with the city” despite the last bridge over the Siverskyi Donets river having been destroyed.

“Russian troops are trying to storm the city, but the military is holding firm,” he added.

Russia says Ukrainian fighters at Azot plant can surrender on Wednesday

Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had offered Ukrainian fighters sheltering in the Azot chemical plant in the eastern Ukrainian town of Severodonetsk the chance to surrender on Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported.

The ministry added Ukraine had asked Russia to set up an evacuation corridor to help civilians leave the plant, with all the bridges linking Severodonetsk to Ukrainian-held territory now destroyed.

Zelensky says Russia will “go further” than Donbas if given the opportunity

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday that he believes that Russia, if given the opportunity, will expand its ambitions in Ukraine beyond the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the country’s east, known as the Donbas.

“I am sure that if Ukraine is not strong enough, they will go further,” he said during a virtual press conference with Danish journalists.

“We have shown to them our strength. And it is important for this strength to be also demonstrated together with us by our Western partners as well,” he added.

Zelensky once again appealed for more weaponry from Western nations. He stated he was grateful for what had already been sent, but “it has to come quicker” if Ukraine’s allies want to stymie Russia’s territorial ambitions.

At the beginning of the invasion, Russian forces attacked and occupied multiple Kyiv suburbs before the Kremlin withdrew its forces from around the capital to concentrate on the east of the country. And in early June, Russia fired five cruise missiles toward the capital Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian military.

“They have already been to Kyiv,” Zelensky said of the Russians.

“They have seen our welcome, and our ‘hospitality’ there. And of course they have the idea of occupying the whole country. They demonstrated this in the first weeks of the war. This is their objective,” he added.

European commission to recommend granting Ukraine candidate status in EU: Report

The European Commission is set to endorse Ukraine for the status of a European Union member candidate in an assessment prepared for the upcoming EU summit in Brussels, Politico reported, citing sources familiar with the discussion.

On Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made another visit to Kiev to discuss its EU membership bid with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The official assured that the Commission’s final assessment is expected “by the end of next week”. On Monday, the College of Commissioners, consisting of 27 representatives of each of EU member states, started discussions on the possibility of granting candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

The newspaper’s source said that the Commission was largely supportive of Ukraine, particularly in the context of pro-European moods during and after the so-called Euro-Maidan coup in Kiev in 2014.

The commissioners are now going to conclude their assessment on the possibility of granting Ukraine the candidate status, although the final word rests with the EU member states and their respective leaders and governments, who will convene at the summit in Brussels from 23-24 June to discuss the issue based on this recommendation.

At least three EU members are still at odds with the initiative, the sources were cited as saying without naming the dissenting countries.

Zelensky signed the application for Ukraine’s accession to the EU on 28 February, a few days after the start of the Russian operation. During the EU delegation’s visit to Kiev on 8 April, he received a questionnaire to begin Ukraine’s accession process.

Von der Leyen stated that the document was “the basis for discussions in the coming months.” Zelensky turned in Ukraine’s questionnaire to EU Ambassador in Ukraine Matti Maasikas on 18 April. The Commission is currently evaluating Ukraine’s answers.

Ukraine war “perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented”: Pope Francis

Pope Francis has stated that the war in Ukraine “was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented” in remarks published by Italian newspaper La Stampa on Tuesday.

“What we are seeing is the brutality and ferocity with which this war is waged by the troops, generally mercenary, used by the Russians,” the pontiff reportedly said during a conversation with the directors of the Society of Jesus cultural publications on May 19, adding that the Russians “prefer to send Chechens, Syrians, mercenaries forward.”

“But the danger is that we only see this, which is monstrous, and we do not see the whole drama that is unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented. And I register an interest in testing and selling weapons. It is very sad, but basically this is what is at stake,” he said.

The Pope noted he is not “in favor” of Putin but “simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good and bad, without thinking about roots and interests, which are very complex.”

“While we see the ferocity, the cruelty of the Russian troops, we must not forget the problems to try to solve them,” he added.

Pope Francis stated that before Russia invaded Ukraine he met with “a head of state” who “was very worried about how NATO was moving.”

“I asked him why, and he replied: ‘They are barking at the gates of Russia. And they do not understand that the Russians are imperial and do not allow any foreign power to approach them,'” said the Pope, adding that the unnamed “head of state” told him “the situation could lead to war.”

Pope Francis also said he hopes to be able to speak with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, later this year, after a meeting between the pair that had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday was ultimately postponed because of the war in Ukraine.

“I was supposed to meet him on June 14 in Jerusalem, to talk about our affairs. But with the war, by mutual agreement, we decided to postpone the meeting to a later date, so that our dialogue was not misunderstood,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope added he hoped to meet the Russian Patriarch at a general assembly in Kazakhstan in September. The Pope recently cancelled a trip to Africa due to a knee injury.

In separate remarks published Tuesday by the Vatican, the Pope stated the invasion of Ukraine “has now been added to the regional wars that for years have taken a heavy toll of death and destruction.”

“Yet here the situation is even more complex due to the direct intervention of a ‘superpower’ aimed at imposing its own will in violation of the principle of the self-determination of peoples,” noted the Pope as part of a message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of the Poor, which will be marked in November.

Kiev sets expectations for Scholz visit

Germany’s leadership should accept the economic price for cutting ties with Russia, and support Ukraine without regard for Moscow’s reaction, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview published by German media on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian leader spoke to ZDF television ahead of a visit Chancellor Olaf Scholz reportedly plans to make to Kiev later this month, alongside the leaders of France and Italy.

Zelensky urged Scholz to voice clear support for Kiev’s EU accession bid.

“I expect that he will personally support us and say that he is confident that Ukraine can join the EU and that candidate status will be granted to Ukraine as early as June,” the Ukrainian leader added.

Zelensky questioned Scholz’s efforts to balance support for Ukraine with maintaining relations with Russia, and urged Germany to pick sides, branding any attempt to avoid economic harm by appeasing Moscow as “wrong.”

“I believe the right choice is that of truth, human rights, the right to freedom and national sovereignty and international law. I think those are more important than some economic priorities,” the Ukrainian leader stated.

Kiev has repeatedly accused Germany of failing to provide enough support. The Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, Andrey Melnik, infamously called Scholz an “offended liverwurst” for not personally visiting Ukraine. The chancellor declined to travel there after Kiev refused to host President Frank-Walter Steinmeier over his alleged anti-Ukrainian policies during his tenure as German foreign minister.

During the interview, the Ukrainian leader reiterated that he had no intention to engage in peace talks with Russia, unless a full withdrawal of Russian troops was offered. He claimed the best path towards peace was arming Ukraine, allowing its troops to “advance faster”.

Following weeks of Russian advances in Donbass, Zelensky acknowledged that Ukraine is suffering heavy losses, but announced the army is driven by a righteous cause.

ZDF asked about US President Joe Biden’s accusation that Zelensky failed to heed US warnings of an imminent Russian attack. The Ukrainian president shifted the blame, saying Western nations should have done a better job deterring Moscow.

“Why was the [Ukrainian] airspace not closed? Why didn’t they supply us weapons before this invasion and why did they not introduce provisional sanctions that the president of Russia was discouraged from attacking?” he asked.

France says Macron’s possible visit to Ukraine is an ‘option’

A visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv is one of “several options” that are on the table at present, although no decision has been taken on this yet, government spokesperson Olivia Gregoire said.

German paper Bild am Sonntag reported earlier this month that Chancellor Olaf Scholz would travel to Kyiv on Thursday with Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Macron has sought to maintain dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the war began, but that stance has been criticised by some eastern and Baltic partners in Europe as they see it as undermining efforts to push Putin to the negotiating table.

Wall Street stops servicing Russian debt

JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are withdrawing from handling trades of Russian debt, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. The pullout follows Washington’s announcement last week that it was banning US investors from holding such assets.

According to the report, which cited market professionals, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were still matching sellers who wanted out of the debts with interested buyers this month. Now, the two Wall Street banks are pulling back after the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said investors in the United States aren’t allowed to acquire them, sources stated.

“Consistent with the updated OFAC guidance and Goldman Sachs’ wind-down of activities in relation to Russia, the firm will no longer be conducting certain client-related market making activities regarding Russian entities,” Goldman Sachs added in the statement.

On May 24, the US Treasury Department announced it would not renew a license that allowed Russia to make sovereign debt payments to American investors. Data by one of the world’s largest financial securities transactions companies Euroclear shows that about $85 billion worth of securities held by foreign investors have been blocked.

Moscow has slammed Washington’s decision, describing its actions as a default of the Western financial system, due to its failure to fulfill its financial obligations. Russia’s Finance Ministry has said Moscow will continue to fulfill its state debt obligations, despite the tightening of external restrictions.

Ukrainian prosecutor investigating mass grave near Bucha

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General says that it is investigating the deaths of seven civilians found with their hands tied behind their backs near the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

During an investigation of formerly Russian-held positions in the forest near the village of Myrotske, authorities announced “the bodies of seven civilians with gunshot wounds and hands tied behind their backs were found in the trenches.”

“The pre-trial investigation is being carried out by the Bucha District Department of the National Police in the Kyiv Region,” a press release on Monday read.

Ukraine’s national police on Monday stated that across the country they are still trying to identify the bodies of 1,200 civilians.

“This is a long process, rather painstaking, because a lot of bodies are in a state of putrefactive decay,” National Police Chief Ihor Klymenko told Interfax Ukraine.

“We select DNA from those relatives who contacted us via the hotline, and then we compare the profiles of these relatives with the profiles of the dead, buried, shot, who could not be identified,” Klymenko continued.

He said that police are currently investigating the deaths of more than 12,000 civilians across the country.

In Bucha, he noted, a single mass grave had been found with 116 people. He added that some mass graves were the result of residents who collected corpses from the streets and buried them in nearby parks.

Ukrainian authorities continue Severodonetsk evacuations “every minute when there is quiet”

Ukrainian authorities say they continue to evacuate civilians from Severodonetsk during every lull in “extremely escalated” fighting for control of the embattled eastern city.

The third of three main bridges to Severodonetsk was deemed impassable on Monday by the head of the regional military administration, though authorities say they still have ways in and out of the city.

“The ways to connect with the city are quite difficult, but they exist,” Oleksandr Struik, head of Severodonetsk military administration, told Ukrainian television.

He added evacuations were taking place “every minute when there is quiet there, or there is a possibility of transportation.”

Struik said just over 500 civilians continued to shelter in the city’s Azot chemical plant, which authorities say has been the target of intense shelling by Russian forces.

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, told Ukrainian television Tuesday that two more Russian battalion tactical groups had been moved into the area to bolster their efforts. He stated Russian forces continue to try to encircle Ukrainian forces in the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

Debate over Ukraine’s EU status could endanger unity: Portuguese PM

Portugal’s prime minister has warned that the debate over whether to grant Ukraine candidacy status in the European Union could divide the bloc and create “false expectations.”

“The best support that the European Union can give to Ukraine is to keep its unity,” António Costa told the Financial Times in an interview, adding, “The best we can offer is European unity.”

Division in the EU would be a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the newspaper cites Costa as saying.

“My focus is to obtain in the next European Council a clear commitment on the urgent support and to build a long-term platform to support the recovery of Ukraine,” Costa told the FT.

“This is my main priority. The most important are not legal debates about Ukraine but practical deliveries,” he added.

According to the FT, Costa stated that he did not explicitly oppose Ukraine’s candidacy, but that his priority was “clear and immediate support,” warning against opening a years-long negotiation at this moment.

“The great risk is to create false expectations that become bitter disappointment. Less legal debates, more practical solutions,” he continued.

During a visit to Kyiv this weekend, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted that the Commission would be ready to finalize its assessment on whether to recommend Ukraine for EU membership “by the end of next week.”

EU body warns conflict in Ukraine could aggravate drug problems

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could create “new vulnerabilities” in Europe to illegal drugs by triggering shifts in smuggling routes and potentially exposing more people to narcotics, the Lisbon-based EU drugs agency has warned.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said in its annual report that many people who have suffered “severe psychological stress” during the conflict may be more vulnerable to substance misuse problems in the future.

Drug traffickers might switch to alternative routes to avoid areas with a heightened security presence, it added, while health services in European countries, especially those bordering Ukraine, are likely to become more strained as drug users fleeing the conflict require support.

“Continuity of treatment, language services and the provision of accommodation and social welfare support are likely to be key requirements,” it said, adding that even those who were not drug users were at risk.

Severodonetsk situation ‘extremely aggravated’: Governor

Luhansk’s governor has described the situation is Severodonetsk as “extremely aggravated”.

“The storming of the city has been going on for several days in a row. The enemy destroys high-rise buildings and industrial facilities with artillery,” Serhiy Haidai wrote on Telegram.

Each day people are killed, but their bodies are “difficult to reach due to the density of shelling,” he said, adding that there are “many damaged high-rise buildings … some of which the Russian army shot to demolish the foundation”.

Russia’s defence industry could struggle with demands of Ukraine war: UK

Russia’s defence industry could struggle to further meet the demands of the war in Ukraine, partly due to the effects of sanctions and lack of expertise, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

A top official in Russia’s Military Industrial Commission predicted that defence spending could increase Russia’s defence budget by 20 percent, the ministry announced.

“The industry could struggle to meet many of these requirements. Russia’s production of high-quality optics and advanced electronics likely remain troubled and could undermine its efforts to replace equipment lost in Ukraine,” the ministry added.

Pope criticises Russian cruelty in Ukraine but says war perhaps provoked

Pope Francis has taken a new series of swipes at Russia for its actions in Ukraine, saying its troops were brutal, cruel and ferocious, while praising “brave” Ukrainians for fighting for survival.

But in the text of a conversation he had last month with editors of Jesuit media, he also said the situation was not black and white and that the war was “perhaps in some way provoked”.

“We must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved,” Francis stated, including the armaments industry among the factors that provide incentives for war.

“It is also true that the Russians thought it would all be over in a week. But they miscalculated. They encountered  a brave people, a people who are struggling to survive and who have a history of struggle,” he added.

Moscow Exchange suspends Swiss franc trading after new sanctions

The Moscow Exchange has announced it would suspend trading of the Swiss franc against the rouble and the US dollar after Switzerland adopted new EU sanctions against Russia.

The Moscow Exchange, Russia’s largest bourse, said it was having difficulty conducting transactions in the Swiss currency as a result of new trading restrictions imposed by Switzerland last week.

“The suspension of operations is due to difficulties conducting settlements in Swiss francs faced by market participants and the financial sector in connection with the restrictive measures imposed by Switzerland on June 10,” the Moscow Exchange added in a statement.

Russian troops pushed Kyiv’s forces out of Severodonetsk city centre: ISW

Russian troops pushed Ukrainian forces away from the Severodonetsk city centre on Monday but did not fully capture the city, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

The institute also announced that claims by Moscow-backed separatists that Ukrainian forces had destroyed the last bridge linking Severodonetsk to Lysychansk were likely false.

“Deputy Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Militia Eduard Basurin blamed Ukrainian forces for destroying the bridge (though it is highly unlikely Ukrainian forces would willingly destroy the bridge while any of their forces remained in Severodonetsk and this claim is likely false)…,” the ISW added.

Battle for Donbas is “one of most brutal battles in and for Europe”: Zelensky

The battle for the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine “will surely go down in military history as one of the most brutal battles in Europe and for Europe,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nighty address on Monday.

This comes after Ukrainian military officials earlier in the day announced their troops had been pushed back from the Severodonetsk city center, which along with its twin city Lysychansk, is at the heart of the current battle for what’s still in Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas.

Officials also stated three key bridges linking Severodonetsk to Lysychansk are now impassable to vehicles, meaning supply routes in and evacuations out via those routes are impossible.

Zelensky noted Ukrainians face the “significant advantage of the Russians in the amount of equipment, and especially — artillery systems.”

“The price of this battle for us is very high. It’s just scary. And we draw the attention of our partners on a daily basis to the fact that only a sufficient number of modern artillery for Ukraine will ensure our advantage and finally the end of Russian torture of the Ukrainian Donbas,” he added.

Ukraine will “liberate” all cities, towns and regions now occupied by Russia’s forces, the president said.

“We will come to Kherson. And ordinary Kherson residents will meet our army on the streets of the city … We will come to Melitopol. And we will return to all Melitopol residents the opportunity to live without fear,” Zelensky stated.

“We will come to Mariupol. And we will liberate the city for the third time,” he noted, explaining that the city was first liberated from the Nazis in 1943 and then again, on June 13, 2014, from Russian-backed separatists.

“We will come to Enerhodar. And I want to repeat to everyone in the city who took to the streets against the Russian military, who refuses to cooperate with the occupiers and who is waiting for us today. I want to repeat that we have not forgotten about our Enerhodar for a day,” he added.

Russia’s key goal of operation in Ukraine to protect Moscow-backed republics

Russia’s main goal of its military operation in Ukraine is to protect the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, Russia’s RIA state news agency cited Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying.

“In general, the protection of the republics is the main goal of the special military operation,” Peskov stated.

More than 1,700 residents left occupied Kharkiv areas: Local official

More than 1,700 people managed to leave Russian-occupied territories of the Kharkiv region on Monday, the head of one of the region’s villages has said, according to the Interfax news agency.

“With the help of regional and district military administrations, local government bodies and volunteers managed to help people who independently reached the village of Pechenihy and crossed the hydroelectric dam on foot,” Alexander Gusarov stated.

“For people who escaped from occupation hell to the territory controlled by Ukraine, the first necessary support has been provided,” he added.

Zelensky tells Germany to give Ukraine support, worry less about Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz to show full-throated support for Kyiv, charging the German leader with being too concerned about the repercussions this would have for Berlin’s ties with Moscow.

Zelensky’s comments, made in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF, come amid speculation that Scholz could make his first trip to Kyiv since the start of the war on Thursday.

“We need from Chancellor Scholz the certainty that Germany supports Ukraine,” he said, adding, “He and his government must decide: there can’t be a trade-off between Ukraine and relations with Russia.”

Truss says she discussed Russia’s blockade on Ukraine grain exports with Blinken

Britain’s Foreign Minister Liz Truss has stated she spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about Russia’s blockade on grain exports from Ukraine, as well as new legislation to govern post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.

“Spoke to Secretary Blinken. We agreed that Russia must release those subjected to abhorrent show trials & end their blockade on grain exports,” Truss said in a tweet.

“Also discussed our Northern Ireland Protocol Bill,” she added.

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